Life's Little Mysteries

Why Do Dogs Love Water But Cats Hate It?

(Image credit: Nuli | Dreamstime)

Throw Fido in a lake and he'll take to it like, well, a duck to water, but Fluffy the cat will balk at the prospect, right?

Sort of.

While most dogs do enjoy swimming and most cats don't, it isn't a hard and fast rule that divides the species.

"Not all cats hate the water and not all dogs love it, but generally speaking, the domestic cat doesn't seem to like to swim," said Kelley Bollen, the director of behavior programs for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

There could be a number of reasons for that, Bollen told Life's Little Mysteries.

"One contributing factor could be that their hair coat doesn't dry quickly and it's simply uncomfortable to be soaking wet. I also think because cats are 'control freaks' and like four feet on a solid surface, they do not appreciate the sensation of floating in the water," said Bollen, who also runs the Animal Alliances behavior practice in Massachusetts.

Some dogs , on the other hand, are specifically bred to 'work' in the water, such as the aptly-named Portuguese Water Dog, the Duck Trolling Retriever and the Irish Water Spaniel, Bollen said. These breeds are great swimmers, unlike heavy-set breeds such as bulldogs and dogs with short legs, such as daschunds.

Besides some genetic factors, dogs are also much more likely to be introduced to water in a pleasant way from an early age than cats are, said Suzanne Hetts, a wildlife biologist with Animal Behavior Associates in Colorado.

There are plenty of exceptions, however, Hetts said.

"All of have to do is go on YouTube and watch all kinds of home videos of cats playing with water coming out of the faucet," she said.How Did Dogs Get to Be Dogs?

Got a question? Email it to Life's Little Mysteries and we'll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can't reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.

Heather Whipps
Heather Whipps writes about history, anthropology and health for Live Science. She received her Diploma of College Studies in Social Sciences from John Abbott College and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from McGill University, both in Quebec. She has hiked with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and is an avid athlete and watcher of sports, particularly her favorite ice hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens. Oh yeah, she hates papaya.